Friday, 17 July 2015

13-16 July - Gau - hiking, snorkelling, spear fishing & diving

Hello again,

I am typing fast while Benjamin sleeps - the diapers I sloshed and soaked last night are waiting in the cockpit for the kids to come back, and there are dishes on the counter, but I have a few precious minutes of quiet. Max has gone to Caminante where Gustav has kindly offered compressed air and water to us. A big group went diving this morning (many thanks to Jesus for driving the dinghy convoy through the reefs while they dove!)

Let me back up a bit. On this sunny afternoon with 13-14 kts of wind, it is hard to remember that for the first few days we were here it was rainy, cold, and windy - so windy that for the first time some of our laundry blew off our lifelines... and we weren't the only ones to lose garments! We even heard from our friends on Lumbaz that a boat dragged in Suva after we left, so it wasn't any nicer there.

After the advanced party of our kid boat fleet arrived here (Harold Bay) last Friday morning, we all hiked together to the main village on the island to do our sevusevu ceremony (kava root presentation) together. We knew there had to be a path from the beach, but we ended up cutting through the woods for quite a while until we found it! After another 30 min on the "road" we arrived in a very friendly village. As on Matuku, we were taken to a common space; here we had the bright eyes of many children peering at us from the next room, where they were playing happily and exuberantly. There were 23 of us, from Caminante, Nautilus, Exodus (with five visitors) and ourselves. As usual, we were warmly welcomed in Fijian, our bundles of kava were accepted, and then the kava bowl was brought out. A morning sevusevu typically just consists of presenting/accepting the kava, but an afternoon ceremony can often lead to drinking it together as well. I don't think I have written about this before: the kava roots are pounded (outside in a huge mortar/pestle) to a powder and placed into a cloth bag, then water is added to the (shallow, wooden, three-legged) kava bowl a bit at a time, and the bag of powder is squeezed and mixed until the concoction is ready. It has an appearance of brown water, and it is passed to us in little half coconut shell cups. The chief is offered some first. He often has his own cup, which sits in front of him on a little stand; the common cup is emptied into it for him to drink. When we are offered kava, we accept by saying "Bula", clapping once with rounded hands, and accepting the cup with both hands. After we drink it (all in one go), we pass back the cup, clap three times, and say "Vinaka". After the chief (and maybe other village leaders) have been served, each person in the circle is offered a serving, then there is a pause for conversation until the next round. We have only seen Fijian men participating in the ceremonial sevusevu, but Fijian ladies will also drink kava during village social evenings; during sevusevu, all the cruisers (men and women) have been included, although we have often ended up with a circle of men and a circle of women, which is typical of Fijian customs. Children are not generally offered kava, although ours all were when we were in Matuku. It is rude to leave unless the bowl is empty, so in this case, we were watching carefully so we could go back to the boats before they made another mixture, otherwise, the mixing and drinking can carry on well into the evening, and we wanted to be home before dark :) At the moment of drinking, the kava can leave a tingly feeling in the throat, but none of us has noticed much in the way of after-effects. (In fact, we were all able to reanchor our boats when the wind shifted after the sevusevu in Matuku!)

On Saturday, Max and Jesus made the first of many pilgrimages to the pass for spearfishing. The fleet was not super successful that day, spearing only a couple of fish, one of which they gave to the village, but the locals caught seven or eight fish.

On Sunday morning, we went to church with Nautilus. We decided that we would take our dinghies to the village rather than walk in the rain down the path, but the tide was really low, so we had our squeamishness tested when we had to walk the last few hundred meters on mud so mucky that it sucked the shoes off our feet, and squeamish or not we had to go barefoot. Rinsed and refreshed at the village tap, we were led into the church where we were all seated in a row. As ever, the singing was lovely and resonant in the concrete-walled building, and the breeze was refreshing wafting over the lagoon into the windows. Benjamin lasted about five minutes before he just had to have more room to travel than the pew would allow, so Max took him on a tour of the village, where they were invited into the home of a family with a three year old girl who happily shared her toys. Not only was our little group welcomed to the service in English (and reminded that, even though it would be conducted in the Fijian dialect, "Jesus Christ is here"), but we were invited to respond. Hans spoke for all of us when he talked about the warm welcome we have received everywhere in Fiji, and how this is a place that will stay in our hearts long after we have left. We are not sure what the three different speakers were saying during the sermon time, but whatever it was, it was well received by the congregation: one of them even had everyone in stitches, which was fun to hear (even our children commented on the laughter). After the service, we were ushered out first, to shake the hands of the minister and the other worship leaders, then we were added to their receiving line and we all shook every single hand in the village, from youngest to the oldest. Our cheeks were tired from smiling so much by the time they had all gone by! One of the village leaders (in fact, the acting chief) invited us all to follow him to his home, where his wife had prepared a Sunday feast for their family. After some small talk in their living room, during which time Jesus, Johnathan and Seppe successfully went searching for Max and Benjamin (who were also in a front room while a feast was being prepared, wondering what the plan was...), we were all seated around their table cloth on the back deck, and served rice, fish, fish soup, noodles, snails, and casava. Our host and his wife joined us in eating, but the rest of the group of family & friends waited until we had finished were on our way, then they sat in our places. I continue to marvel at the generosity of everyone we have met, and how quickly they are willing to share whatever they have with us.

During our visit after church, we arranged for a local guide (John) to take everyone to the highest point near the village to have a bit of a hike and to see the view. On Monday morning, the hiking party trouped to the village at the appointed hour, in the rain. Unfortunately, he was nowhere to be found, so a lady stepped into his stead, and off they went. I can only tell you about it second hand, as Benjamin and I were snug on the boat, but I guess the terrain was muddy (and steep), the footing was slippery, and the rain was pretty much constant (unlike the anchorage where it was just intermittent with winds in the high 20s). As it turned out, the group never did see the view from the top as it was too wet. Oh well. Despite the rain, everyone was in high spirits when they got home, and they were eager for some of the hot chocolate that I had picked up last week at the Cost-u-less :) Jesus was the last of the group to return, as afternoon turned towards evening; he had hiked further than the rest, enjoyed the vista, met some farmers, drank some tea, and returned with his hands full of casava and bananas.

Max & the other dads stayed on their boats long enough to have some late lunch and a bit of a rest, then they headed out spear fishing. Imagine Max's surprise when he came back to Fluenta in the gathering darkness, assuming the boat was empty because there were no lights on, and found a saloon full of children watching a movie! Shortly after he had left, Johnathan and Victoria had offered to tidy in exchange for being able to invite all the kids over. When Deanne (Exodus) heard this radio traffic, she was quick to follow with an invitation for the moms to join her on Exodus. By the time the men came back to the anchorage, the socializing was well under way :)

You will probably not be surprised to hear that Max & co went spearfishing on Tuesday as well ... there is a bit of a theme to the activities here :) Max is especially enjoying the spearfishing, because Dr Speargun (aka Tim on Exodus) spent some time with him in Suva and taught him to replace the broken bands and lines on his gun. Together they re-did them all; he says that it is now so strong that he can hardly load it! Max came back to Fluenta with a big grin on his face and two fish in the boat. Unfortunately one of them was a puffer-like fish that with only its head sticking out of a cave at 30' looked a bit like a grouper, but the other was a very tasty coral trout (the first we have had).

The rain finally let up enough on Tuesday that the kids could have a night of camping ashore. Victoria and Fein had had their heads together for a couple of days making lists of what each of the kids should bring; they had scouted out a site for the tents during the hike on Monday. With the arrival on Monday evening of Lumbaz in the fleet, we were up to five boats and 15 kids; of these all but Benjamin and the younger Caminante girl braved the rain and slept ashore, including the three visitors on Exodus, who have fitted right in. Of course while the kids were away, it was time for the parents to play, so we all went to Caminante for a potluck dinner that went well into the evening. The kids outlasted us, though: their fire and conversation was still going when we went back to our boats. Victoria had each of the children bring one cup of flour, and she brought some oil, water, etc to make biscuits. The pan that they found in the give-away bin at the marina in Whangarei is really getting good use! The kids also ate a breadfruit that one of the boats had left on the beach: they cut it into small pieces and fried it in their pan. Victoria's verdict was that it was delicious (which is good, because breadfruit is a staple crop here, but I have shied away from buying it until now).

Some of the parents had come up with a plan to move the big boats nearer to one of the pass dives early in the morning, but they had forgotten to brief the kids; the first thing we heard on the radio the next day was a polite announcement that it was that it was a kids-only beach, and parents should not come ashore. (It would seem that there is no need for assertiveness training in this fleet!) Given the offer to travel to the new anchorage together if they could be off the beach by 0930, they relented and let the grownups take the tents. There were four well-laden paddleboards and kayaks headed towards the anchorage when I looked at my watch at 0934. Caminante stepped up to offer everyone a ride, and ended up with all but five of the kids. With tummies full of pancakes, we got some happy kids back in the afternoon :) Meanwhile, Mama Duck (Exodus) and her four baby ducks had a sunny eight-mile parade along the coast, ending up right beside a pass-diving site that Danny & Genie (Lumbaz) had raved about visiting when they worked as dive masters here 16 years ago. As usual, the spear fishers were quickly in the water, but they decided to leave all the big fish alone as there was some debate about this pass being a marine reserve of some sort. As for us, we towed our lines along the way, and reached the anchorage with a walu (similar to a wahoo but smaller) on our hook. We had valet service as we set our anchor: Tim (Exodus) was in the water to guide his crew into place, and he did the same for us when we anchored beside them. Most of the area was pretty deep, but we found a few spots that were manageable. Lumbaz and Exodus only stayed for the afternoon and anchored overnight in a nearby bay, but we elected to stay put ... which led to another potluck on Caminante for ourselves and Nautilus :) We shared our walu, and brought some butternut squash mashed with whipped cream, a repeat what had turned out to be a popular offering the evening before. It also meant that my Savusavu butternut found a good home in all the tummies of the fleet :)

Today was a diving-intensive day. While the kids and I did some schoolwork (and washed diapers - salt wash, salt rinse, miniscule fresh final rinse) this morning, Max went out with two dinghies of divers. Jesus was kind enough to be their driver, and he had his work cut out for him, following their bubbles, navigating the bombies, and keeping two dinghies under control. Thankfully, he was able to go diving when the group went out again in the afternoon. We are grateful that Gustav (Caminante) has a dive compressor, so he was able to supply air for everyone (Aside - we are also grateful that Gustav has a functioning high-capacity water maker, because he sent Max home with two full jerry cans this evening!) {Second aside - we are happy that we have a puller in our cubby so we could loan it to Gustav this afternoon. He has been so helpful to us with all his tools and equipment, and it was nice to offer something to him for a change.} Enough asides. Max was absolutely glowing after the morning dive - it seems that the site has lived up to Danny & Genie's description. I will leave it to him to tell you more [started with almost as many sharks as Farakava south pass and then followed up as it got shallow and the current got faster to an amazing collection of soft coral. Max] . After Benjamin's nap, the kids and I hitched a ride with Tina (Caminante) and had a chance to do a little snorkelling ourselves. This area is really beautiful. [We also did a second dive with again lots of sharks, even what appears to be a mum and baby sharks, and thousands of big barracuda. Also seen were eagle rays, turtles and an ocotpus. My dive regulator was starting to freeflow so it was a quick dive for me. Max]

Just when I thought we were going to have a quiet evening on the boat, we got word that there was a night snorkel planned for all the kids. Lumbaz was anchored in about 2m of water right beside the reef. The plan was to meet in the late evening, enter the water from their stern, and snorkel with flashlights. In particular, Hans and Gustav wanted to introduce the children to night-diving, so they put together a bucket of waterproof lights in preparation. As it turned out, all the kids had ended up on Lumbaz ahead of time, and by the time all the parents wanted to go snorkelling, they were well ensconced in watching Mama Mia, and none of them ended up coming along! Even Benjamin was absorbed into the singing, dancing frenzy that only eight excited girls in one kitchen can create :) (The boys were on the settee looking kind of bored). I have to admit that I was just as happy that Max and I had only each other to watch for. It was like being in another world - the water was only about 6-8 feet deep and the bombies were within 2-3 feet of the surface. The visibility wasn't super clear, so our diving flashlights were like Star Wars light sabers in the water as the light bounced off all the particulate. We didn't see a lot of fish (just the slow ones, perhaps?) but I did see a fat moray eel and a huge red crab. It felt like this underwater world had been created just for us, but of course it has been here for millions of years, and we are simply fortunate enough to visit it briefly. After what seemed like the perfect amount of time in the water, we arrived back at Lumbaz chilly and happy to say good night and collect our children. Despite our wetsuits, we were well ready for some hot chocolate [and rum] after our dinghy ride to Fluenta :)

Given the fluidity of our programme, I am not sure what to predict tomorrow will hold, but I suspect there will be diving, snorkelling, and possibly a change of anchorage. We are starting to look at the weather to go West from here (towards Nadi) with the possibility of moving on before some heavy weather arrives this time next week.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 7/15/2015 9:34 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 18°05.17'S 179°16.05'E
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At 7/15/2015 9:34 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 18°05.17'S 179°16.05'E

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